One Fast Move Or I’m Gone (Pt.1)

One Fast Move Or I’m Gone (Kerouac’s Big Sur)

Jay Farrar & Benjamin Gibbard

… is a CD/DVD combo released in 2009 and was in fact the catalyst for me to (finally) start the project ‘Retracing Jack Kerouac’ (see the ‘About’ page).

The center piece of the release is actually the 96 min film documenting and interpreting the period, interviewing some of the people and visiting some of the places, Kerouac wrote about in his 1962 book ‘Big Sur’. As you might be aware of, it’s the story of him dealing with a difficult time in his life, in which he’s, rather unsuccessfully, trying to get a grip on his increasing alcohol consumption. To which end he’s planning to hide in City Lights founder’s Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s cabin at Bixby Canyon in Big Sur. Of course he gets distracted upon his arrival in San Francisco and goes on a bender. After finally making it to the cabin he at first has a few nice times, but soon suffers a nervous breakdown. ‘Big Sur’ is honest, sad and touching book about his stay there, the trip to San Francisco he undertakes, the people who come to visit him in the cabin and the unavoidable woman-trouble that ensues. But, crucially, it’s also an exceptionally beautifully written book and one of my favourite books of his.

Although the film is excellent(and subject of pt.2 of this post), the CD is the personal highlight for me, so I’ll start writing about the music in the first post about the release. Jay Farrar is currently a member and main songwriter of Son Volt, but was in the past also a member of Uncle Tupelo. These guys are one of my favourite bands and their ‘March 16-20,1993’ album is probably my favourite album of all time. Of course Kerouac is mostly associated with Bop music and not the acoustic Country/Folk oriented songs on that album (and indeed ‘One Fast Move…’). But I also detect traces of Kerouac’s writing style, themes and the imagery in a host of Jay Farrar’s songs, so I am happy he got involved in this project.

Although I wasn’t aware that Farrar was influenced by Kerouac as much as he apparently is, his involvement on here is not as much of a surprise to me as Benjamin Gibbard’s. Gibbard is singer in Death Cab For Cutie and of a decidedly younger generation then most of the people involved in the project, which for me is an encouraging and welcome sign.

Only a few of the songs on the album are to be heard for a considerable amount of time in the film, the musical pieces in the film rather seem to be variations/acoustic versions on the songs on the CD. The 12 songs on the album are stylistically not that different from each other, but that is by no means meant to be a criticism on my part considering they turned out so well. Described by Jay Farrar in the liner notes as ‘campfire songs’ they are mostly down to midtempo and acoustic guitar based songs, with a great amount of lap and pedal steel guitars as most defining sound characteristic on a number of songs (which I love). Especially in this context the steel guitars sound very well, as the broad and sweeping sound of them sounds elegiac and does lend a dreamy feel to the songs. Steel guitars are traditionally also obviously closely associated with country songs and their familiar themes of being ‘on the road’. Perfect for picturing yourself (or Kerouac) riding a train/car or bus (listen to the lyrics of album opener ‘California Zephyr’) and watching the landscape rolling by outside your window – which is obviously very becoming to accompany Kerouac’s books. The song titles and lyrics are taken from lines from ‘Big Sur’ and the poem ‘Sea’ (which is a part of the book) and are used rather beautifully, which is of course not really that surprising coming from songwriters of Farrar’s and Gibbard’s ilk.

Album opener ‘California Zephyr’ is basically just Gibbard’s voice, a lovely, strummed acoustic guitar and an organ in the background describing the journey Kerouac took on the train from New York to San Francisco. The song also contributed, as I mentioned earlier, to my decision to take the same train (the California Zephyr of Kerouac’s time was discontinued years ago, don’t know to which extent the current Zephyr is travelling the same route but judging from what I know, it’s pretty much the same route) and see for myself what he wrote about in his books. The next, slow and shuffling track, ‘Low Life Kingdom’ is the first of the numerous pedal/lap steel dominated tracks, this time sung by Jay Farrar, whose sleepy Midwestern voice (he’s from Illinois) works exceptionally well. The piano-led ‘Willamine’ (sung by Gibbard) is an account and meditation of the brief relationship Kerouac had with a San Franciscan woman who accompanied the whole gang for a few days on one of the trips to the cabin – which didn’t exactly work out very well (big surprise). The following, all too brief, ‘All In One’ is maybe my favourite track on the album. A slow, dreamy, country-rock song with a steel guitar giving the song a wide open feel and a standard drums/bass/acoustic guitar and organ backing – what could easily have sounded tired and boring, turns out to sound most wonderful. ‘Breathe Our Iodine’ in contrast is a rather dark and moody song, which is appropriate for the brooding lyrics dealing with the paranoid feelings Kerouac has listening to the waves of the Pacific ocean. ‘These Roads Don’t Move’ is the most uptempo track (not that it’s really fast) – a perfect travelling companion song and not unlike a lot of the Son Volt’s output. ‘Big Sur’ in contrast, is drum-less and features piano and various guitars only and another harmony-drenched piece of melancholic gorgeousness.

On ‘One Fast Move Or I’m Gone’ the most defining sound is that of a bass drum, mixed far to the front of sound – which sounds brilliant. ‘The Void’ is another dark, reflective track, which evokes the painful feelings Kerouac describes in the book rather perfectly. The lyrics on album closer ‘San Francisco’ deal with some of Kerouac’s favourite themes, mainly SF’s Skid Row (which I have to admit found to be an utterly depressing place when I visited, so I can’t quite follow Kerouac’s fascination with it, although I do have to admit that reading about it in his books sounds intriguing). But proving the class of the songwriting (and arranging) on the album once again, that piercing harmonica on the ‘SF’ sounds absolutely appropriate for the lyrics. To top it all off, the album is arranged and produced exceptionally well, with a crisp and airy sound and would be an outstanding piece of music on its own.

Pt.2 coming soon

5 Responses to “One Fast Move Or I’m Gone (Pt.1)”
  1. I was super excited about One Fast Move Or I’m Gone when I heard about it, and wish it had gotten more press when it first came out. Thanks for posting about it. I’m looking forward to part 2!

  2. JHaeske says:

    Thank you Stephanie for the comment. What did you think about the music?
    Pt.2 will come in a week or two.

  3. mark says:

    where can I find this on DVD?

    • J Haeske says:

      Am not really sure where you would get this nowadays. The official site where you could order it from doesn’t seem to exist anymore. My best bet would be the Beat Museum in San Francisco (, I would imagine they still stock it. Or maybe try maybe they can help. Or try it on Ebay. Sorry I can’t be of more help, but I hope you do manage to track it down somewhere, it’s excellent!

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  1. […] that acted as sort-of a catalyst for my own Retracing Jack Kerouac project.  I have written about here and here way back in […]

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